Sexual Harassment, Anarchy, and the Tor Project

Back in November of last year, I shared this openDemocracy video of Jacob Appelbaum, “journalist and researcher for the Tor project, [talking] about technology, freedom and resisting surveillance at the World Forum for Democracy.”

While this current post has no bearing on his rousing speech or the approach to technology with regard to communication (and vice versa) it supports, I’m compelled to write it as a sort of follow-up.

Recently a number of women claiming sexual assault, sexual humiliation, and rape have spoken up publicly about being victimized by Jacob. Some of them are/were significantly involved in the Tor Project while others may be associated with the broader cryptographic & cybersecurity community.

I read all of the accounts to date, some of which are still anonymous, one of which is lengthy and provides a large amount of context, and I believe that they should all be believed. I’ll link them at the bottom.

In the media—especially social media—talk abounds in regard to the subject of sexual harassment permeating all levels of society, but I want to highlight something that will be different than what we in the US usually hear and expect with regard to our legal system and notions of punishment.

Two of the victims, Isis Agora Lovecruft (@isislovecruft), and Alison Macrina (@flexlibris) are or were involved in anarchist collectives (Isis Agora is much more prominent about her anarchist status, as evidenced from her personal website) and as a result have opinions that contrast with what mainstream society may expect.

Below are some excerpts from their posts.

Alison Macrina:

People speaking up were dismissed as a lynch mob — an ahistorical and offensive way to describe a critical mass of people who had previously been silenced and were demanding accountability. There have been repeated calls for “due process” and the involvement of the court system, which ignores the violence that system perpetuates against both accuser and accused. Calls for police intervention are particularly alarming to hear from a community in which so many advocate for a stateless society.

For all of you screaming “This is not what justice looks like! Why don’t you just go to the police?!” let me just wax realpolitik and, like a good little German, quote some Gesetz and cite some statistics.

The “due process” of a state court, in my case, will be detrimental to both Jake and I, as well as numerous other people. The law is very clearly against both of us in this case, with the overwhelmingly likely outcome that he would be kicked out of Germany.

Isis Agora Lovecruft:

Not to mention that, if our goal is to prevent more people from being harmed by Jake, prison is not an option. Overwhelmingly likely, even in Germany, Jake would be raped in prison. I do not wish these painful things I’ve gone through on anyone, not even those who have caused me pain. Further, most abusers have a history of having been abused at some point in their past, and Jake going to prison certainly will not help him amend his behaviour.

And here is part of Lovecruft’s statement on her website:

I am an anarchist! And when I say that, I do not simply mean that I would like to see all States destroyed, social hierarchies crumble, and state capitalism perish. I mean that I believe inequalities in power dynamics pose a hindrance to the progression of human thought and scientific understanding, that the overall degrees of freedom for collected conscious agents should be maximised, and that all forms of government are intrinsically immoral due to their disregard of individual consent. I don’t believe in control even down to the microcosmic, interpersonal level. Expressed more colloquially: “fuck you, you’re not my dad! make total destroy! kill it with fire.

I note these statements—which are but small passages of their posts regarding Jacob and his abuses—because they are in stark contrast to the prevailing incarceration-centric approach here in the US, which can be seen very notably and recently in the Stanford case of Brock Turner.

I by no means wish to say Brock doesn’t deserve an extended prison sentence (I signed a petition to recall Judge Persky who so leniently let him off, but my justification for signing lies outside the scope of this post), but only to juxtapose the community-centric approach and emphasis on transformative justice that anarchists—especially these two—espouse for terrible crimes.

Technology and Community

At the forefront of getting older in a major metropolitan area is the continued emphasis that should be put on community. People treat each other differently when there’s connection, understanding, empathy. Often this connection is strongest when you’re a few feet away from someone—the bandwidth with which you can experience those emotions is extremely high. But when that opportunity is not available, meaningful connection is not a lost cause. There are ways to link people to other people, and then there are ways to study, organize, and improve that connection with a now-familiar method: technology.

I’ve worked on products that have reached millions—even tens of millions—of people. [Quick ego check: I still find this mind-boggling and am humbled at what can occur through sustained team-effort.] Getting feedback was sometimes solicited at the company-level, for business reasons; sometimes at the journalistic level, for publicity, review & quality reasons; and other times it was incidental: people knew—and sometimes knew intimately—the product in question, and would not hesitate to give their opinion, feedback, and critiques. Luckily for me, it was often good, and an intriguing joy to listen to.

Having strangers, acquaintances, or friends know about—or be users of—something you created isn’t community per se. But the conversation that arises can be considered fringe aspects of community. For instance, with video games, like a lot of other hobbies/diversions, there is common language (argot, even), shared experience, organized gathering, criticism, critique, and influence taken and given to other forms of media. I choose that example because I used to work in that industry, albeit from one (very large) corner; my experience was thus limited by time and insulated by other factors, namely, working for only one company on one franchise. I also choose that topic because of the strife and crisis that it as an industry, a medium, an art-form is facing.

Not long ago I was introduced to a new type of community concept that has been around for centuries if not millennia: that of yoga kula. “Kula” is a Sanskrit word meaning “community” and I was exposed to it, in theory and in practice, when I completed a certified 200 hour yoga teacher training last October. That committed study has impacted my life in a profoundly positive way. But the relationships built and explored with my other classmates and the instructors were not confined to our daily study within the venue of study—we are in touch and connected, even when we haven’t spoken in many weeks or months. There will always be more ideas, more practice to explore; it is an unending community, and one that deserves to grow.

I want more—and new—impactful experiences like the one mentioned above. Who wouldn’t?

Currently I’m, with careful deliberation, seeking my next professional move. I look forward to discovering roles that not only align with my technical skills, but roles that offer causes I can get behind. Namely: creating understanding, building relationships, empowering individuals but also fostering lasting, harmonious relationships between people.

[Note: I wrote a specific cover-letter to a company recently that explored a lot of these ideas, some verbatim. I decided to spin it off—and expand upon it—as a post here.]